PHOENIX — When it was over — the game, the season, the shortest Rocktober yet — Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story hunched over the dugout steps and watched the party unfold.
Get a good look, fellas. The Rockies aren’t far off from throwing one of their own.
"I really felt like if you got out of that first game, we've got a team that could end up winning the World Series, not only just get there," closer Greg Holland said in a losing clubhouse thick with long faces and what-could-have-beens.
This is supposed to be where you rip the Rockies. They lost to the Diamondbacks, 11-8, late Wednesday night in front of 48,803 transplants in the National League wild-card game. Toss a truckload of dirt on Jon Gray’s career, the whole shebang. Lament a whiffed opportunity in the postseason, at least. Right here, in this space, a proper epilogue to a baseball season.
Can’t do it. Not after the way the Rox fought back in the loudest strip mall in baseball, Chase Field. Not after they saw their No. 1 starter, Jon Gray, chased in the second inning, the shortest start of his young career. Not after they turned a 6-0 deficit into a 6-5 deficit, an 8-4 deficit into an 8-7 deficit. Not after they lost the top three starters due to injury and, well, cancer — Gray, Chad Bettis and Tyler Anderson — and held it together with young, unproven arms to win 87 games and experience what postseason baseball feels like.
"I told that to the guys, how proud I am of this season," manager Buddy Black said afterward. "Nobody thought we would be in this position, and we were.
"This was a good year for our group," Black added.
That alarm clock’s going to come early Thursday, isn’t it? And this Rockies season — all 163 games of it — should sound the alarm the local club is knocking on the door. The Diamondbacks advanced to face the Dodgers in the National League Division Series. Game 1 is Friday. The Rockies advanced into an offseason with a sentiment that hasn’t been felt around those hills in some time: hope. Real, live, baseball hope. Where one season ended, it felt like a new era was unfolding.
“It’s fun to see kids that you’ve scouted for a long time and that have grown up in your organization and you feel like you’ve known for a long time actually come together and achieve the success that people were dreaming about,” general manager Jeff Bridich said before the game.
Things went south in the first inning with the curveball hit 'round the world. Felt like it, anyway. When Paul Goldschmidt — here in the Valley of the Sun, he's known simply as “Goldy” or “M-V-P! M-V-P!” — uncorked a three-run homer beyond the left-field wall in the first inning, the game was over.
Felt like it, anyway. My Uber driver to the ballpark mentioned that Goldy hasn't been hitting. So much for that five-star rating.
"I'm disappointed we lost," second baseman D.J. LeMahieu said. "I'm not disappointed in the way we played."
What had kept the Rockies afloat when their bats went quiet — their pitching — failed them at the end. The Diamondbacks turned on a faucet the Rockies couldn’t shut off. Colorado's top starter (Gray) and top reliever (Holland) picked a bad night to have a bad night. Credit the Diamondbacks’ hefty lineup, a group that just keeps coming and coming until you’re worn down.
As the Diamondbacks gathered their families on the infield in the postgame party, the Rockies packed their bags.
"I want to keep this team together," LeMahieu said.
It was a Gray day, indeed. Gray's performance was a disappointment that should be buried out in the desert somewhere. The 25-year-old's first postseason start looked like it: four earned runs in 1 1/3 innings. First pitch arrived at 5:08 local time. Goldschmidt's homer arrived at 5:21. Black took the ball from Gray at 5:51. Yes, things escalated quickly. It was 96 degrees outside, and the Rox finally were cooked. The lasting image of the Rockies' fourth postseason appearance will be Gray swearing into his glove as he trudged to the dugout for the earliest playoff exit for a starter in club history.
For Gray, who was drafted for that moment, it will be a motivational moment or the start of a bummer trend in postseason baseball. His call. To leap from the dugout steps and into the party, the Rockies will need a true-blue ace.
"It was costly," Gray said.
But credit the Rockies for not folding. Rocktober is Rockover.
These Rockies are just getting started.